Picking winners in a bike races sometimes feel akin to guessing the number of ping-pong balls in the hatchback at the shopping centre. Even if you're fairly confident with your main riders, who are you supposed to take to fill out your roster after you've blown all your money on Kittel, Greipel, Froome, Porte and Quintana? Thankfully Cycling Central is here with a guide to beating your mates across three weeks in France.
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There are more detailed rules within the game, but essentially the main way you score points is by riders finishing in the top places on each stage. Points are awarded all the way down to the 20th finisher, so it pays to have riders that are consistently around the mark, rather than someone who might win one stage from a break.
Stages are awarded different points depending on their difficulty and are split into two categories. Sprint stages are in category 2 and receive a third less points than the category 1 climbing days, so the system encourages a balanced approach to team-building. Sprint stages are worth less, but are more predictable, and you can transition your team to climbers during the transfer period when the mountain stages become more common, and which tactic you will be employing over the course of the Tour will likely determine final success.
There are significant bonuses for riders who take jerseys and lesser ones for retaining them, so have a think about who will be in yellow and green early, and change your strategy to suit.
There are eight transfers for each third of the race with Stages 1-7, 8-14 and 15-21 being the deadlines for the transfers. Use them wisely, there's nothing worse than doing a few seemingly smart trades, only have a rider get injured and be taking up a spot on your roster. From a strategic standpoint, it looks likely that it will be beneficial to do some trades between stages 6 and 7, when the racing transitions more away from sprinting and begins to focus more on the high mountains.
Your budget is limited to 65 million Euros (not affected by post-Brexit currency fluctuations), do you sacrifice a position or two to claim the consistent winners, or pick a well-rounded squad?
Watch out for pitfalls, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was just ruled out after injuries sustained from getting into a fist fight, but he's still on the list, so don't pick him. Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) is on there as well, so don't pick the former world champ as he'll be missing in action.
There is a bonus stage that you select at the start of the Tour, where all points are scored double. Do you go for all sprinters at the start and bank the easy points? Or do you hope that your team can perform in the high mountains on the higher value but less predictable stages?
With the team choice, don't waste money on overspending. Teams don't earn many points, a good team may consistently garner you points but they only get a maximum of 10 for a win, whereas a rider gets a maximum of 90... save the money for the riders.
Everyone will have their favourite riders and most will pick the superstars of the sport. Quite rightly as well, if you don't have Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) on your squad you better have some inside information that the rest of us don't.
It is harder picking the 3.0-6.0 million Euro riders for those that don't have the luxury of following the sport year-round like some. Here's my handy guide to the value options on the market and a short biography, which will help you look like you know what you are talking about if you are challenged on why you selected them.
Eduardo Sepulveda- 5.5 mil (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) The Argentinean was coming 19th overall last year until he was disqualified for climbing into a team car and getting a lift up a climb. And yes, that really happened.
Emmanuel Buchmann- 5.5 mil (Bora-Argon 18) Buchmann came from nowhere to win the German nationals last year and then had a decent showing in a number of breakaways at the Tour. Climbing results were very solid at the recent Dauphine and he could be the breakout youngster of this year's Tour de France.
Jarlinson Pantano- 5.5 mil (IAM) Yet another Colombian mountain goat, Pantano won a stage at the recent Tour de Suisse, was consistent throughout and may now be the team leader after out-performing Matthias Frank.
George Bennet 4.0 mil (Lotto NL-Jumbo) For all the Kiwis out there, Bennet is the guy you'll want to watch when the road tilts upwards. A late selection here after last year's 6th place finisher Robert Gesink had to withdraw.
Tsgabu Grmay 3.0 mil (Lampre-Merida) A bargain basment prices isn't a true reflection of the Ethiopian's qualities. I had the pleasure of doing an interview with him at the Tour Down Under (link below), he's a lovely soft-spoken guy and he's been targeting the Tour for a long time. Plus he can ride a bike, looks likely to have plenty of opportunities to go in breakaways and may be a sneaky contender for the polka dot jersey.
Jasper Stuyven- 5.5 mil (Trek Factory Racing) The surprise winner of a Vuelta stage last year, Stuyven appears to have gone from strength to strength since, with his season highlight being a superb show of force to hold off a charging peloton at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne to take a memorable solo win.
Dylan Groenewegen- 5.0 mil (Lotto NL-Jumbo) Serious value here with the young sprinter, who recently took out the Dutch nationals. Don't expect wins, but he's a versatile rider with a quick turn of pace who will be consistently racking up top ten finishes.
Davide Cimolai- 5.0 mil (Lampre) His team don't really have the leadout for him to mix it with the best in the sprints, but he excels when it is a slight uphill into the finish line. He has even had wins over Michael Matthews in the past, so watch out for him on Stages 3 and 4.
Gregory Soupe- 3.5 mil (Cofidis) Bouhanni's absence will mean that someone from Cofidis will have to step up and have a go at the sprints and that task looks likely to fall to longtime leadout man Soupe. If he wins anything I'll eat my hat, but he's one of the best lower-priced options for point-scoring.
Best of luck for the race, if you're anything like the riders, you will need a good helping of it if you are to emerge victorious.